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Personal Story: Better on the Other Side of Back Pain

A 42-year-old had surgery on a ruptured disc and was up and walking the same night of the surgery and doesn't think about his pain anymore.

back surgery patient and his children doing outdoor activities together
Updated August 12, 2020

For over two decades, 42-year-old Tom Mitchel of Marlton, NJ, dealt with reoccurring back pain. Initially it was a little pain, a spasm here and there. He’d take some ibuprofen and that was it. But, as time went on, the pain increased, and the spasms became relentless.

In February 2016, he saw a sports medicine specialist and was diagnosed with a stress fracture and ruptured disc. He started getting injections in his spine to reduce the pain, but they didn’t work. The pain persisted and became so bad that he could no longer sit in the car long enough for his two-hour round trip commute to work.

Something had to be done.

That’s when he sought out Virtua Brain and Spine Institute surgeon James Sanfilippo, MD, for a second opinion. Because the injections weren't working, Dr. Sanfilippo recommended surgery, and Tom agreed.

The pain prevented him from going into work and forced him to work from home—it was affecting his entire life: “I went to family parties and neighborhood gatherings and just sat around. I couldn’t play with my kids. I was tired of telling the same story. I was mentally and physically exhausted.”

Tom was nervous about the surgery, but he knew he couldn’t live with the pain any longer and thought: “It’ll be better on the other side.”

Tom had surgery in May 2016 at Virtua Memorial in Mount Holly, and he was up and walking the same night. “I think that the care I received in the first few days was very important to my recovery.” 

The next day, in physical therapy, he climbed stairs. And by day two, he was home. While there was some discomfort during the recovery period after surgery, the pain he had experienced previously was gone.

“The best advice I got from Dr. Sanfilippo was not to rush my recovery. And anything he said to do, I did. I trusted him.”

He went to Virtua physical therapy to recover the muscle mass and movement that he lost from being sedentary for such a long period of time. Thanks to his therapists, he went from walking from his house to his neighbor’s house to two doors down, then three doors, then four. He walked further and got faster.

And, at three months post-surgery, the doctor lifted all of Tom's restrictions. He doesn’t even think about his back pain anymore and, more importantly, neither does his family.

Download the Virtua Health Guide to Back Pain, or call 856-246-4272 to request a consultation with a Virtua back pain specialist.